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Blake pleads not guilty to wife's murder

Blake pleaded not guilty to murder, solicitation and conspiracy charges.
Blake pleaded not guilty to murder, solicitation and conspiracy charges.  

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Actor Robert Blake pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that he murdered his wife last May outside a Los Angeles restaurant.

Bodyguard Earle Caldwell pleaded not guilty to a conspiracy charge in the killing of Bonny Lee Bakley, 44, Blake's wife of six months.

The 68-year-old actor was arraigned Monday on one count of murder with special circumstances, two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of murder conspiracy

According to the murder charge, Blake "intentionally killed the victim by means of lying in wait" -- a special circumstance that prosecutors can use to seek the death penalty.

Murder with special circumstances  
Solicitation of murder (2 counts)  
Murder conspiracy  
Read the charges against Blake and Caldwell (FindLaw) (PDF)
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  •  FindLaw: People vs. Blake (PDF)
  •  Murder with special circumstances
  •  Solicitation of murder (2 counts)
  •  Murder conspiracy

Blake began his career as a child actor in the "Our Gang" and "Red Ryder" film series in the 1930s and 1940s.

He gained fame in the role of Perry Smith, one of the killers in the 1967 movie adaptation of Truman Capote's nonfiction classic "In Cold Blood," and later starred in the 1970s "Baretta" television detective series. In recent years, he might be remembered for an offbeat role in David Lynch's "Lost Highway."

Blake, who was dressed in street clothes for the hearing, was arrested Thursday, shortly after Caldwell was taken into custody, and will be held without bail at least until a May 1 hearing.

According to the criminal complaint, Blake shot his wife after two hit men he hired failed to do the job.

Bakley, 44, was killed the night of May 4, 2001, outside Vitello's Restaurant in Studio City.

She was shot twice, once in the head, with a vintage .9 mm German-made Walther P-38 automatic handgun while sitting in the couple's parked car. That is the pistol police said they found in a nearby trash container a few days after the shooting.

Blake told police he had left his wife in the car to return to the restaurant to retrieve his gun, which he had mistakenly left inside. When he got back to the car, he discovered she had been shot.

The complaint describes several failed attempts to kill Bakley.

One involved Blake's efforts to hide his van in the desert as part of a plot for a hit man to kill his wife and bury her in the desert, the complaint says. Caldwell, 46, was instructed to dig her makeshift grave, according to the charges.

A second plan also involved a hit man who would have shot Bakley while she sat in a parked car somewhere near Bullhead City, Arizona, according to the complaint.

Another aborted plan occurred in April, during a trip to Parker, Arizona, and Three Rivers, California, when Caldwell -- armed with a handgun -- allegedly hid in bushes and on the bank of a river and jumped out when Blake and his wife were traveling together, the complaint says.

Bakley's younger sister, Margerry, was in court for the arraignment and was emotional following the hearing.

"This is just awful, after reading the complaint and seeing him and seeing Earle. It's just awful. I feel just terrible," she told CNN. "I can't believe my sister's gone. I can't believe they planned this. I knew it, but I just can't believe it."

Earlier Monday, defense attorney Harland Braun said Blake was doing "very well" after learning that Margerry Bakley said her family had no intention of seeking custody of Rosie, the daughter he and Bonny Bakley had together who is now nearly 2 years old.

When the decision on Blake's guilt or innocence finally goes to the jury, Braun's strategy to target Bakley could prove to be the difference, said University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky.

"On one hand, it's a way to raise reasonable doubt, arguing other people had motive to kill her," Chemerinsky said. "On the other hand, there is a dead woman, and the real danger is that the jury may sympathize with the victim and turn around on the defendant and defense counsel."




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